Figurative Art Spotlight: An exclusive interview with American figurative artist Patricia Watwood on one of her favorite paintings, why she creates art, and what draws her to the figure in particular.
“The figure is not a subject of art, it is a form of art,” says Watwood. “I care about narratives, human emotions, our wisdom and challenges, and what it means to be alive.”
I had the pleasure of sharing a Q&A with Watwood, who is teaching how to paint the figure at the upcoming Figurative Art Convention & Expo in Miami, Florida. Keep reading to see what inspired her to paint the timely work “Susannah in the Moonlight,” and more.
Cherie Dawn Haas: Please tell us about your figurative work “Susannah in the Moonlight.”
Patricia Watwood: “Susannah in the Moonlight” is a painting I completed last year that was fun to do because I wanted to try a “moonlight” effect, and I used a different color key than anything I had previously created. My theme was a nude with a nocturne effect, so I used a range of blues, purples, and pinks in the skin tones, and used a blue lighting gel while working with the model. It was very hard to get my brain to adopt the new color key!
Instead of the normal pinks, yellows, and greens that are my preferred “daylight” color notes, I used cerulean, ultramarine, prussian blue, manganese violet, dioxanine purple, alizarin crimson, and brilliant pink. The trick for me was to use this different palette but still get the viewer to “accept” that the skin was a naturalistic tone in a special lighting condition. I also had fun playing with very saturated color notes in the water, hair, and other touches of light.
The story of the painting is Susannah, bathing at night, who is spied on by some older men with lecherous intent. It’s a biblical story, and she is falsely accused of temptation. This narrative felt so appropriate to the “Me Too” movement. There is also an inside joke about the artist’s gaze, the history of art, and the female nude tucked in for careful observers.
CDH: Why do you create art?
PW: I create art for two reasons. Creating art is how I can dig into and explore my emotional life, and try to express those feelings and passions to others. I feel that creativity gives me access to levels of intuition, experience, and understanding that I can’t get to in my “regular” life, and I love trying to explore that world. The other reason is that art helps me create and share my sense of meaning — meaningful human experiences, meaningful artistic creations, meaningful connections. This enriches my life a great deal, and helps me connect through art with other people who are seekers as well. Searching for beauty and creating art helps me feel like my time and productivity is meaningful.
CDH: What’s a common artistic challenge you face, and how do you overcome it?
PW: EE Cummings wrote, “It’s very hard to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you into something else.” I’m so saturated with visual information, artists’ work I admire, and input from the world about what’s “good,” “important,” and “successful,” that I find it very hard to get down to the quiet heart of what is uniquely my own. It’s hard to have faith that my individual and idiosyncratic offering to the world of art is good enough, and that I’m just fine being myself. I work to quiet those voices of pressure and comparison through various practices of self-awareness, including journaling, meditation, sketching, and gathering, and I allow myself unstructured time in the studio to just “play” and explore. That creative work may not “feed the market,” but it feeds my soul, and helps me be stronger in who I am.
CDH: What draws you to the figure in comparison to other subjects?
PW: The figure — human beings — are truly the only subject that can maintain my devotion and interest for sustained development in art. The figure is not a subject of art, it is a form of art. I care about narratives, human emotions, our wisdom and challenges, and what it means to be alive. The figure as a subject allows me to swim in the waters of human connection and understanding, and to celebrate what it means to be alive and embodied in spirit on earth. What else could I want to paint?
CDH: Please tell our readers a little about what you are doing at FACE.
PW: I am excited to be teaching again in the evening figure studio! Last year we had over 100 artists — including some of my heroes and leaders in our field — all in the same room drawing and painting the figure. I will be giving guidance, answering questions, and making sure the poses and lighting are the best they can be. During the day, I’ll also be doing a portrait demonstration in the expo hall to share with people what’s offered in my Streamline Painting DVD “Creating Portraits from Life with Patricia Watwood.”
CDH: What are you looking forward to the most about FACE?
PW: I’m excited to work in the figure studio again, and to listen to the great presentations on art by the outstanding faculty. It helps my practice so much to learn from other artists’ wisdom and experience. And… I can’t wait to swim in the pool! It’s gorgeous!
Visit Patricia Watwood’s website at www.patriciawatwood.com.
Preview “Creating Portraits from Life” here: